Knowing The Mind Of The User

Librarians engage in endless dicussion about what we can do to make our organizations successful, and by success we mean achieving a high level of relevance to our user community. Do they care about us and the services we offer? Do we add meaning to their work and lives? Although we largely lack the tools to measure success on these terms, beyond the basic satisfaction survey, our motivation for change is to move in the right direction on the road to success. Marginalization. Obsolescence. We do know the signposts of failure.

In our search for that elusive formula for library success, I found some ideas worth contemplating in a blog post over at Branding Strategy Insider. Jack Trout, in writing about the relationship between strategy, positioning and success, writes that we all know it’s important to have the right people, the right tools, the right attitude and the right role models. We hear this all the time. But Trout points out that it’s the right strategy that makes the difference. But even the right strategy can fail without good positioning.

Positioning, he writes, “is how you differentiate yourself in the mind of your prospect”. That really fits in with past discussions here of user experience. It is about being different in the mind of the user. In a world with increasing information options and competition, libraries must differentiate themselves. There are five elements to the positioning process, and they all require us to really understand the minds of our regular and potential library users:

1. Minds are limited and will only allow information that is new and different to compute – but even then only if it relates to old information (sounds familiar to stage three of Gagne’s nine points of instruction).

2. Minds hate confusion so keep it simple. We are already familiar with the simplicity-complexity conundrum with which librarians must cope.

3. Minds are emotional not rational so taking advantage of the “bandwagon” effect and word of mouth can be critical to gaining new users. More good reasons to study the findings of Dan Ariely.

4. Minds are more comfortable with what they already know than with what’s new. That sounds like our greatest challenge. How do we get a generation of minds raised on Google and now, Wikipedia, to get out of that comfort zone and into a whole lot of new library resources? We must learn to differentiate them and make clear what value we add to the proposition of learning something new.

5. Minds have trouble dealing with choice and variation. Another huge challenge for us because we offer dozens of variations of information products and overwhelming numbers of features. How do we turn this from a weakness to a strength?

As you form your library’s strategy and decide how best to position what you do and offer, it seems wise to keep in mind these five important points about the workings of the mind. Trout provides a final reminder that should give all librarians something to think about – the importance of focus and specialization. I suspect that many of us are trying to do too many things, provide too many services and to trying to excel at all of them. Perhaps an important part of any position we take must be to identify what we do well – and to get better at it – and to figure out what we need to stop doing. Not an amazingly original thought, but one well worth remembering.

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